Can Your Ovaries Really Explode?

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If you're looking for a way to indicate that something is so appealing to maternal instincts, so absolutely and ridiculously cute, that your ovaries are about to go into overdrive and explode in a spatter of delight, the internet-favorite phrase "my ovaries exploded" might be just the words you're looking for. Though as you'll probably remember from your junior health class, ovaries don't actually respond to stimuli like that; the human brain does respond to images of babies (particularly our own), but it's a largely neurological response, not one that reaches the reproductive system. But is there any truth to the expression? Can ovaries explode from other medical conditions — even if those conditions are not sparked by exposure to the Momo Twins Instagram?

There are medical problems that create the feeling that an ovary is exploding — like endometriosis, a condition in which the uterine lining grows on other organs like the ovaries and sheds painfully — but for actual Michael Bay-style explosions, we have to look at some of ovarian health's less-common situations. As it turns out, there are particular health conditions that can lead parts of the ovary to "explode" — but trust me when I say that these conditions are way less pleasant than looking at a photo of Chris Hemsworth. Be reassured, though, that there is no normal medical situation in which an entire ovary spontaneously combusts. It's just Not A Thing.

So what does the medical equivalent of "ovary explosion" actually look like? Strictly speaking, it's not very pleasant.

1. Your Ovaries Can Become Hyperstimulated

This is an unusual condition, but it deserves to be known better. Ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, or OHSS, occurs when fertility-inducing drugs overstimulate the ovaries, causing them to swell painfully and leak fluid into other parts of the abdomen. According to the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, up to a third of all women undergoing IVF experience at least a mild form of OHSS, because the drugs involved in IVF can be very difficult to calibrate accurately to an individual's hormones and reproductive organs. How OHSS actually happens isn't quite understood; the Mayo Clinic suggests that women who have a high level of a particular hormone called human chorionic gonadotropin in their systems while they're undergoing fertility treatment might be more vulnerable, because it tends to cause ovarian blood vessel issues.

If you're undergoing fertility treatments, OHSS should be mentioned as a risk; cases can range from mild (where the ovaries stay under 8 cm) to severe (where they swell up to 12cm or more). Most of the time, OHSS will be accompanied by abdominal pain, nausea and bloating, so if you're on IVF or a fertility drug regime and think you may have an issue, get to a doctor immediately; this is a serious medical concern.

2. An Ovarian Cyst Can Rupture

We often get distressed when we hear the word "cyst;" but cysts are quite common in our ovaries, and normally resolve of their own accord. Many ovarian cysts are classified as "functional;" they're made from the sac that forms around a maturing egg in the ovary. Once the egg is released, the sac is meant to deflate, but if it doesn't release the egg or if the sac doesn't deflate properly, it can swell with fluid and a cyst is formed. (The first type is called a follicle cyst; the second is called a corpus luteum cyst.)

The rupturing of ovarian cysts, which essentially means the breaking of that sac layer, is often not a cause for concern; it may cause a brief period of pain, but the fluid inside is likely to dissolve rapidly, according to Self's exploration of the concept. They can rupture for all sorts of reasons (vigorous sex is one, unfortunately enough). Serious ruptures can be a problem if they're part of endometriosis, if the cyst itself is big or cutting off blood supply, or if the cysts aren't "functional" (that is, if they developed due to any reason other than natural menstrual development, like cancer). Basically, though, this is as close as you actually get to an actual "explosion" in your ovaries.

3. You Can Develop A Hemorrhagic Ovarian Cyst

Remember the previously-mentioned corpus luteum cyst, which forms after an egg's left a sac and the sac closes over again? Those cysts can sometimes transform into something called a hemorrhagic ovarian cyst, which has its own interesting ties to the idea of an "explosion." With hemorrhagic cysts, instead of bursting, the cyst starts to bleed internally, forming a clot and developing a distinctive "fishnet" appearance on ultrasounds. You essentially have a blood blister on the surface of an ovary, which sometimes grows up to 5cm in diameter or more.

This sounds terrifying, but most of them resolve themselves within eight weeks, or two menstrual cycles. Occasionally, they can burst, leaking blood into the pelvis, which can cause pelvic pain and require medical intervention and help, but they're not a serious issue. As with the other things on this list, severe pelvic pain is a symptom and a signal that you may need to get checked out.

4. You Can Have Ovarian Torsion

This isn't technically an "explosion," but it's an application of severe pressure on the ovaries that can cut off their blood flow. Ovarian torsion refers to a condition where an ovary becomes twisted around, often in response to exercise, some kind of sharp trauma, or serious cysts shifting the ovary's position. It's the cause of about three percent of all gynecological emergencies in hospitals, and is deeply nasty: it can reduce the blood supply to the ovaries, cause internal hemorrhage, and generally create excruciating pain. If it's not treated properly, the ovary might actually die and need to be removed.

A 2015 essay in The Atlantic, where an author documented his wife's extraordinary pain as she experienced ovarian torsion ("twisting the fallopian tube like you’d wring out a sponge," he wrote) shed light on the condition — as well as the ignorance of the medical staff who treated her. The ER doctors assumed her pain was caused by kidney stones; by the time a CT scan revealed the true nature of her problem, it was too late and she lost the ovary. So it goes without saying that an ovarian torsion is a serious medical condition and you need to go to hospital immediately if you suspect you have one.

And no, nothing on this list is caused by exposure to sweet, adorable babies. You're safe.

Images: Mladen Sladojevic/E+/Getty Images, Giphy